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Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova find grip on clay

Nadal beats Berdych 6-4, 6-2 to reach last four after losing in quarters at Monte Carlo, Barcelona.

Maria Sharapova lost the first set 2-6 to Li Na but fought back to win the next two 7-6 (5), 6-3 and advance to the semifinals of the Madrid Open. Reuters Maria Sharapova lost the first set 2-6 to Li Na but fought back to win the next two 7-6 (5), 6-3 and advance to the semifinals of the Madrid Open. (Reuters)

World No.1 Rafa Nadal thumped Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-2 on Friday to set up a semifinal against the Madrid Open’s surprise package, unseeded fellow Spaniard Roberto Bautista.

Defending champion Nadal has not been at his dominant best on his favoured clay this year, losing in the quarterfinals in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. However, he had a relatively easy ride against the outclassed Czech sixth seed, a player he has now beaten on 18 occasions in 21 meetings on all surfaces and 17 times in a row.

Nadal broke Berdych’s serve three times without losing his own and, with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic withdrawing and Andy Murray knocked out on Thursday, remains firmly on course for a fourth Madrid Open crown.

David Ferrer, the fifth seed, beat unseeded Latvian Ernests Gulbis 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 to join his compatriots in the semis. Ferrer next faces 10th seed Kei Nishikori, who will become the first Japanese to break into the world’s top-10 after he progressed to the last four with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Spain’s Feliciano Lopez.

The last Asian male to reach the top-10 was Thailand’s Paradorn Srichaphan in 2004. Nadal said his performance was probably his best of the clay season, good news for the Mallorcan as he gears up for a tilt at a record-extending ninth French Open crown later this month.

It was a match with a lot of intensity and perhaps it was my toughest match until now in the tournament,” he told a news conference. “To make it to the semifinals for the first time in the clay season here in Madrid is great news for me,” added the 27-year-old who is chasing a 63rd career title and a 44th on clay. “I just managed to go over a barrier in the quarterfinals with a difficult opponent. I’ve been two weeks without doing that and I’m happy. Now I just need to make an extra effort. I have to keep on going along the line that I’ve been going which is each day to get a little bit better,” said Nadal.

Bautista, ranked 45th, had never reached the last eight of a Masters event and continued his dream run with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Murray’s conqueror, 46th-ranked Colombian qualifier Santiago Giraldo. A promising soccer player in his early teens, the unheralded Bautista has two top 10 wins this year, defeating No.5 Juan Martin Del Potro at the Australian Open and Berdych in Indian Wells, California.

Fightback

Maria Sharapova fought back to oust China’s Li Na 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-3 and claim a place in the last four on Friday as top seed and defending champion Serena Williams withdrew with a thigh problem. Russian Sharapova, the eighth seed, showed all her battling qualities on the clay at the futuristic Magic Box arena to edge World No.2 Li and set up a semifinal clash with third-seeded Pole Agnieszka Radwanska.

“The match was very close, I think it really could have gone her way today,” Sharapova, who saved multiple break points at the end of the second and third sets, told a news conference. “It was just a matter of a few points in the second set,” added the former No.1, whose place in the top 10 is under threat after a poor start to the season.

“Although I was up a break throughout the third set, you know, she’s not going to let go. I didn’t win the match until the last point was played.”

Sharapova had beaten Li in four of their last five encounters, including twice on clay, and she said experience had helped her through. “It’s a combination of experience and kind of what you teach yourself and the motivation that you find inside of yourself to not get down when you’re feeling things aren’t going the exact way that you wanted them to,” added the 27-year-old. Sharapova lost to Williams in the 2013 Madrid final and her chances of going one better this year were boosted when the top-ranked American withdrew with a thigh injury before her quarter-final against Czech fifth seed Petra Kvitova.

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